LAFAYETTE TOWNSHIP IN 1844
By Nicholas Besser
On account of the scarcity of timber, this, now one of the best townships of our county did not attract the attention of the earlier emigrants.  Mr. Rosia Clements made the first permanent improvement, located on Section 18, adjoining some 60 acres of timber, mostly hickory.  He also took a claim of 160 acres of fine white oak timber in German township, the southeast quarter of Section 22, Range: twp 76- 11.  When we were looking at his claims on October 29, 1844, his improvement consisted of a log cabin built out of bark peeled round hickory logs, and a little smoke house made out of split linden trees.  Both buildings were covered with the usual clabboards. A 4 acre lot, fenced, had been well cultivated as a track patch and 12 acres fenced, one-half mile south of this, on which he had raised a fine crop of spring wheat that season.. At 11, his claim rights he offered to mother for $50. I handed Clements 13 twenty francs, gold pieces, and 60 cents in silver, the 160 acres in timber land being the main object in this deal.  The question how to proceed to hold the same, we were told to have a lawful cabin erected on said claim, prove up a pre-emption, by paying $1.25 per acre at the land office at Fairfield.  Otherwise this land here was not yet subject to entry.  We hired the cabin built, paid Joseph Wilpert and Kramer Bros. 50 cents per day.  One fine day the wagon was loaded with beds, cooking utensils and provisions.  Mother, myself, Anna Maria Kelson, then the bride elect to Peter Kramer, he and his brother-in-law, Joseph Wilpert, drove across the prairie to the cabin in the woods, prepared dinner in the cabin, commenced to establish the pre-emption and after dinner Peter Kramer, Anna Maria and mother returned to Clear Creek, the children having been left in care of Mrs. Wilpert.  Peter Joseph Kramer had been sent with $200 in gold to make the entry at Fairfield as soon as the land office would be opened, about 8 o'clock next day, there to testify to the occupancy by part of the family on said tract.  My humble self as the oldest male of the family, Mr. Joseph Wilpert as hired man, with his dog, were to remain over night until we had reasonable grounds to believe the entries were made.  The dog treed a young fat coon near the creek on a sapling which we cut down.  After a severe tussle with the dog Wilpert succeeded to dispatch the coon with an axe, dressed and prepared part of him for an early supper.  As soon as he had finished supper, Mr. Wilpert wanted me to walk home with him to his place, saying he had a spiritual warning that his wife was sick.  I agreed to stay alone, if he had to go, if he would leave his dog, for in my boyish idea, thinking of Peter Kramer having under oath to state the occupation of at least a part of the family, by me also leaving, would, through my deserting the post, constitute perjury.  Knowing Mr. Wilpert to be a coward after dark, superstitious, believing in jay bird signs of trouble, ghosts, fortune telling, etc., I consented for him to go before it got dark, about 1-1/2 miles through the timber and six miles prairie.  I took the dog in the cabin, let down a heavy blanket for a door and patted the dog who knew me well.  I heard a whistle perhaps one-half mile away.  The dog jumped up and out through the blanket, Goodbye dog!  His master was afraid to go without the dog.

Having made friends with roving bands of Indians before this, one instance of which I will relate later on, I had nothing to be afraid.  Nevertheless, I felt lonesome and lay down on the bed, letting my memory pass review of my happy school boy days, comrades, relatives we had left, the long, tedious trip, father's sudden death, mother's sorrow and, helplessness and the only consolation for the future welfare of her ch1ldren.  She had, what at that time was considered wealth, some $1,200.  About this time I began to figure on the bright side or the future. Getting sleep, I heard an ominous voice, someone calling, hu hu! hu huiey! Thinking Joseph Wilpert or some one else had got lost in the woods, I went out and called; Hello! A few minutes later I heard the same voice farther up the creek.  It was an owl.  Then I slept till long after sunrise and I was awakened by the sound and rattling of Joe Wilpert's home-made little log wagon over some fallen timbers, he, leading with a halter his unbroken two-years-old steers.  Not wishing my mother to know and alarm her, he had not gone to our place to get the team and so had to walk all the way, leading his steers through the grass and brush and getting jerked around. We thought he was well punished. I did not tell mother for some time afterwards.  His wife had given him a curtain lecture for several hours during that night. She was a very sensible and practical woman.

Peter Joseph Kramer returned next, day, stating that the entry was made ok.  Nevertheless, it proved soon after he had made it on a tract said to be a claim made by Judge Callum, on Section 10, township 76, range 12.  Our money was returned in silver.  Nothing more was done until all the lands were subject to entry.  The Kramer Brothers were a peculiar set of bachelors and had complicated names. The oldest one was John Joseph, the next Peter Joseph. This was their business manager.  The youngest and best of the lot was Johann Peter Kramer who had lived in Blairsville, Penn., some three years, then came here in ‘43 and took his claim of timber near a settlement, as they had no team, to move further, erected a little 12 x 16 cabin for their sister on the north line of C1ear Creek township.  When we came to John Peter Kramer’s he had erected a most substantial log house, 16 x 24, 1-1/2 story high the floors made out of two feet splits- like, cooper staves, notched in hewed 6 x 6 joists, plastered with clay, mixed, with fine cut slough hay making a smooth floor.  The whole house had a coat of this dressing, making a very comfortable dwelling.  This, and the scarcity of corn and help elsewhere, induced father to rent this for six months at $3 per month.  This cabin was built on the northeast quarter of Section 33, township 76, range 10.

Contributed by Kim Icenhower. Thank you Kim!

Reference: Kim Icenhower: "I am the great great granddaughter of Nicholas Besser.  My Grandmother, Irma (Striegel) Haag, the daughter of Mary (Besser) Striegel had copies of these stories, which were handed down to her children.  I was told they were factual accounts of his early life in Iowa."

These pages were designed and are maintained by IAGenWeb solely for the  use and benefit of the  IAGenWeb Project, a part of the USGenWeb Project.
Copyright © 1997 by IAGenWeb & Other Contributors        
Please read the IAGenWeb Terms, Conditions, & Disclaimer  --all of which apply to Keokuk Co.

Back to top of page                             Return to Keokuk Co. IAGenWeb                             Back to top of page

Photo background collage is made from penny postcards of Keokuk County, donated to the USGenWeb Archives